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THE DALADA MALIGAWA ATTACKED ON JANUARY 24, 1998

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane Brampton Ontario - CANADA

I think it is appropriate for me to share this information with you today, because it was seven years ago on January 24th, that the inhuman LTTE terrorists attacked the Dalada Maligawa for no good reason.

I live in Canada and have been interested in Buddhist art for some time and have read, seen and experienced so much joy and spiritual satisfaction in this engagement. I have photographed some of this rich heritage of ours and have held several photo exhibitions of these paintings in Canada during the past few years. I was not far from the Dalada maligawa when it was attacked, and was one of the first to witness the aftermath of this unpardonable crime. It is with this background that I would like to make a few comments on the priceless artistic treasures in the Maligawa and the impact of the terrorist attack on some of them.

The bomb attack on January 25th, resulted in the disintegration of the enchanting paintings on the ‘Ambarawa’ said to have been completed during the period 17th-18th century. Ambarawa is at the entrance to the Maligava. It is the tunnel-like area beautifully adorned with colourful paintings. Passing the Ambarava one enters the ‘Hevisi Mandapaya’ (the open verandah-like area) with pillars where ‘pujas’(offering) and drumming are performed.

Besides the paintings, the blast resulted in the total destruction of one of the most precious items of the Maligawa – the historic moonstone at the entrance. It was one of the few most enchanting moonstones bearing the design and shape of Mahanuwara moonstone tradition, somewhat similar to the one at the entrance to the Degaldoruwa vihare. The destroyed moonstone has been replaced with a new one bearing the same shape and design and the ‘Ambarawa’ paintings have been re-drawn. However, can the real treasures be ever replaced?

When conservationists sifted through the rubble after the terrorist attack, they made an unexpected discovery. Beneath the existing wall paintings, two earlier layers of plaster with paintings were detected. Fragments of such paintings are displayed in the new Maligava museum, along with pictures of the destruction wreaked by the terrorists attack.


Paintings of Maligawa

The earliest paintings of the period of the Mahanuvara kingdom, are in the inner chambers of the Dalada Maligawa. They were completed during the reign of king Wimaladarmasuriya -II (1687-1707). Other paintings in the old Maligava building were done during king Kirthisri Rajasinghe (1747-1786).


The two storeyed building where the Tooth Relic of the Buddha is enshrined is in front of this Hewisi Mandapaya. This was built by king Narendrasinghe who ruled from 1707-1739.

On the walls and ceilings of both floors of this building are paintings, which are exquisite. The wooden structures of the upper portions of the outer walls of the two storeys are decorated with intricate carving. Paintings found in these structures are exceptionally captivating. Some of these paintings were done on plaster applied over wooden surfaces.

Most of the Maligava paintings are elaborate thematic or decorative ones. Those decorating the walls and ceiling of the inner relic chamber are most breathtaking. There are paintings of beautiful designs using human figures. animals, birds, and flowers.

Among the more striking ones is that of the Buddha image with the stunning “Makara Thorana” at the background. Other great works of art include, the “Suvisi Vivarana” (the 24 former Buddhas), deities and heavenly beings, king Wimaladarmasuriya- I (1591-1604), king Kirthisri Rajasinghe, Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thera, Jataka tales and the Esala Perahera.

Modern paintings of Upasena Gunawardene are in the new Maligava Annex. They narrate the story of the Tooth Relic and its enshrinement in the Maligawa.

Dalada maligawa is one of our greatest treasures and it should receive the highest level of protection.



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